Be it your first or your third in a row, the feeling of winning a state championship never grows old.
Simply witness the pure joy in the eyes of the Saint Ignatius A-side varsity rugby players on Saturday afternoon.
The Wildcats experienced the jubilation of victory at Fortress Obetz on Saturday, capturing a 19-7 win over the St. Edward Eagles in the Division I-A RugbyOhio State Championship.
The conquest marks the third state title in a row earned by the Wildcats. The program has been crowned as state champions five times, winning five of the last six, all over St. Edward. Few things are sweeter than besting your rival on the biggest stage.
In retrospect, the match might seem like a mere formality, an inevitable outcome. But victory did not seem certain at the start of the contest. The Wildcats fully earned this win, in a physical, grind-it-out match.
The Eagles played well at the start. It was evident that the Lakewoodites would not surrender easily. The two teams traded possessions and opportunities in an often bogged down first half. Marked with physical play, the teams looked to open it up on the wings with speed. The strategy ate up ground, but did not result in points.
The turning point arguably came in extra time at the end of the first half. The Eagles found space in the middle, breaking through a surprised Wildcats' line that was ready for the break. A St. Edward player burst through with authority and a clear path to the try zone. But then Declan Boldy streaked down the field in pursuit just like the Bills' Don Beebe in Super Bowl XXVII. After a struggle, Boldy managed to hold up the Eagle, preventing a seemingly inevitable try.
Boldy's heroic play not only saved five points, but provided the spark the Wildcats needed, preventing the Eagles from taking momentum into halftime.
"The first half was really tough. They came out ready to play," said John Stuhldreher. "At least for me, it caught me a little off guard. Seeing the score at halftime was 0-0, we really had to work hard to keep in the game. Declan Boldy had an incredible last-second play holding the man up to keep it off the ground to prevent them from scoring. That was great."
The Wildcats rolled into the second stanza with a renewed energy. But it would still be a physical battle to break through. A lengthy possession slowly pushed the ball down the field, as the Rugby Cats utilized a physical approach to keep marching to the promised land.
After an extended struggle near the try line, the Wildcats, at last, broke the line. Tommy Gill expended nearly all of his energy in propelling the ball into the try zone without turning the ball over. The sir recognized the try, leading the Wildcats to emit a loud and deserved roar of excitement.
The second stanza continued as it began – a physical match with both sides fighting to score the next, critical try. The five crucial points were awarded to the Wildcats after another senior provided a clutch play – Michael Mangan. A heart and soul player, Mangan used all his might and will in tallying the key try. Boldy added the two points off the conversion, setting the lead at 12-0.
Just four minutes later, the Eagles provided an answer. Not unlike the regular season match, St. Edward's sense of urgency overwhelmed the play. The Eagles touched the ball down with about six minutes remaining, nailing the conversion. The lead narrowed to 12-7.
But this day belonged to the Wildcats.
Yet another senior provided the needed pass to set up the insurance try. Janniel Badeas, an unstoppable player known for finishing tries, supplied a critical offload to John Stuhldreher. The senior took care of the rest, rolling into the try zone to set the score at 17-7. Boldy added the final exclamation point with three minutes remaining on the conversion, a ball that originally seemed destined to be wide, but curling between the uprights at the right moment.
All 19 Wildcats points were scored by seniors, a banner day for the class of 2019.
The Eagles threatened, but a rally did not materialize. In extra time, Kevin Cook kicked the ball out of bounds to ensure the Saint Ignatius victory.
A joyous bunch of Wildcats stormed the field, uniting as a family in triumph. Hugs were exchanged, tears were shed, and shouts were thundered in the cavernous facility.
"In the second half, we really came out strong and that's when we got going," Stuhldreher said. "We put our first try in, and we built up momentum. That gave us the momentum we needed. We kept it going, and didn't let anything stop us from there."
Indeed, the Wildcats were nearly unstoppable for long stretches this season.
The Rugby Cats' class of 2019 leaves behind quite the legacy. The seniors captured back-to-back-to-back state titles, joining elite company. The feat has been accomplished only six times before – the Classes of 1994, 95, 96 each won three straight football titles, the Class of 2017 claimed three soccer crowns in a row, and the Class of 2018 and 2019 did the deed in hockey.
Beyond the on-field accomplishments, the Rugby Cats' seniors are special people, too. Special stories abound in this class. Janniel Badeas becoming a first-generation college student. Ricky Rose following in the footsteps of his dad, Dr. Rick Rose '65, Declan and Seamus McCarthy journeying through the program together, Declan Boldy and Tommy Gill following their brothers with pride, John Stuhldreher overcoming injuries to get a college scholarship and score the last try of the state championship.
The list goes on and on. Over the span of four years, these men made countless memories and gained many brothers. The seniors represented Saint Ignatius with pride and class. This group of men will not soon be forgotten.
Congratulations to the Rugby Cats on another great season, and Godspeed to the seniors in college and beyond.